A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

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What do darkness and light symbolize in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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In "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," darkness symbolizes despair while light symbolizes safety, refuge, and compassion, especially when accompanied by cleanliness and order.

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Darkness in this short story symbolizes despair while light, especially when accompanied by cleanliness and order, symbolizes a refuge from the chaos and nothingness ("nada") of the universe.

In this story, an old man sits in "the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light" of a...

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cafe. This is a pleasant setting, though the shadows reflect the sadness that hovers over the old man's life. We learn that the old man recently tried to hang himself because of despair.

The light of the cafe provides the old man with a bulwark against his despair. This light represents safety. The younger waiter is angry that the old man is lingering late in the cafe. The younger waiter wants to get home to his wife. However, the older waiter understands why the old man stays, even though it is very late at night. He feels a sense of compassion for the old man, with whom he identifies.

The light of the cafe stands for the light of compassion. In a meaningless post-World War I world, islands of compassion and light like the cafe are important to keeping despair at bay. A clean, well-lit cafe may seem like very little in the larger scheme of things, but it is these little refuges that make life bearable.

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What does light symbolize in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

In "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," light symbolizes a safe refuge from the chaos of the world.

In this story, an old deaf man sits in the shadows in a café. The shadows represent his feelings of hopelessness. In fact, this old man has recently attempted to take his own life. Despite sitting in "the shadow of the leaves of the tree," the rest of the café is well lit and orderly. This setting provides the old man with a degree of safety and respite from his feelings of despair.

Although the old man lingers long enough in the café to upset the younger waiter, the older waiter understands that the old man needs this place of light for a refuge. In this sense, light also symbolizes compassion and empathy. When all else in the world seems to be lost in darkness, small places of light, safety, and understanding can make a world of difference to forlorn people like the old man.

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What is the symbolic meaning of darkness in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

Darkness in this short story symbolizes despair. It is first associated with the deaf old man who stays late at the well-lit cafe drinking. He sits

in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.

We learn that he recently tried to commit suicide by hanging himself but that his niece cut him down.

The darkness outside the clean, bright cafe is associated with the chaos and meaninglessness that the light and order of the cafe keeps at bay. The older waiter associates the darkness with "nada." In Spanish, nada means nothing. The older waiter uses the word to signify inner emptiness or meaninglessness, a sense of despair.

The older waiter therefore praises the orderliness, light, and cleanliness of his cafe, as well as the fact it offers seating, something the brightly lit bars don't. All of these features, taken together, represent a humane way of living, a contrast to the nada and darkness without.

While the younger waiter is impatient with the deaf old man for lingering when he wants to get home to his wife, the older waiter, who has experienced nada, understands why he stays. He feels compassion towards him and understands that the little things in life, such as the safe haven a comfortable, well-lit cafe offers, are not trivial in a dark, uncertain world.

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